These days one can use a ‘missed call’ to good effect – from getting information to expressing a viewpoint to complaining about a service. All one needs to do to set the ball rolling is to give a toll-free number a missed call.

Ever since the TRAI (Telephone Regulatory Authority of India) came down heavily on mobile marketing, engaging with customers via a missed call on a toll-free number has become popular as a viable alternative, since the onus of calling falls on the customer and is therefore, not an intrusion. And interestingly, India is calling. For instance, when The Times of India ran a campaign during Anna Hazare’s demand for the Lokpal Bill, its campaign registered one lakh SMS and 45 lakh missed calls, indicating support. During IPL (Indian Premier League) 2010, when a number was given for cricket lovers to dial in and get the scores, millions signed up even without an advertising campaign – only through Facebook.

When we thought of creating a business model around missed calls, we brainstormed and thought of 300 situations where it would make the life of people easy.

Powering such campaigns is Zipdial Mobile Solutions (Zipdial), a Mumbai-based company founded by Valerie Rozycki Wagoner (CEO), Sanjay Swami (Chairman) and Amiya Pathak (COO) in 2010. “When we thought of creating a business model around missed calls, we brainstormed and thought of 300 situations where it would make the life of people easy,” reminisces Wagoner. But knowing that execution is just as important as coming up with innovative ideas, the three decided to get traction for each of its services before moving on to newer areas.

In the beginning, Zipdial began each of its services one-by-one and today, eight services are in various stages of implementation. Most of its services are being used in various sectors including consumer goods, retail, e-commerce and financial services. Wagoner says Zipdial will cover the length and breadth of these four categories before turning its attention to other segments. Similarly, the company also intends to first strengthen its presence in India before expanding aggressively to other markets, probably by the next year. In the next six months there will be a south-east Asian launch and while this can be viewed as a prototype, the actual global foray will start only 12 months later.

Snap Shot

Zipdial Mobile Solutions
Founders: Valerie Rozycki Wagoner (CEO), Sanjay Swami (Chairman) and Amiya Pathak (COO)
Year: 2010
Investment: Rs 3.5 crore from Mumbai Angels

When Zipdial was founded, the founders went the private funding route. The initial recruits were also friends and colleagues, who trusted the trio and their vision. Since then, Zipdial has been funded by Mumbai Angels with Rs 3.5 crore investment in 2011, most of which was utilised for recruitment and technology. The team is now 20 strong and growing with a healthy mix of youngsters and experienced hands.

Crafting the concept
Indian consumers are quite familiar with the missed call concept. However, using the concept to generate business has not been seen before. Wagoner and Swamy, colleagues at Bengaluru-based mChek, discussed the possibilities during a late night flight. Swamy had experience running a venture called Ketera India and Wagoner was keen on establishing a technology startup for emerging markets. The missed call concept caught their imagination and in 2010, they set up Zipdial. Pathak, an ex-employee at Ketera, joined them and developed the solution.

Zipdial has several toll free numbers in its database. A company can sign up online on Zipdial’s website and take a toll-free number, which is then announced in its advertisements. Once the customer gives a missed call or sends a message to the number, the company takes over and engages the customer for further service.

There are four services currently announced on the Zipdial site. Apart from toll-free numbers, there are surveys conducted online, like in the case of the Lokpal Bill campaign by The Times of India. One of the latest services launched is for e-commerce portals for customer verification. “Several times, the courier takes the product ordered online to the customer doorstep and it is sent away. To avoid this, e-commerce portals can use this number to confirm the order placed online before sending it,” says Wagoner. And then companies can customise based on their requirements – like peer referrals, games and contests and more.

Surveying the market
“The first customer we talked to was ready to pay us by cash across the table,” recollects Wagoner. And that happened to be The Indian Debating Society, which was convinced that Zipdial was the ideal solution to get people to register their support for the topic of debate even as an event was in progress.

As Zipdial wanted to be ready by the time IPL started in 2010, it signed up with a fan club in the Caribbean for a football event. “We had partners there and we test-marketed our services so that we had experience with a sporting event,” says Wagoner. It introduced the dial-for-score service back then, which became very popular. Of note, even the Youth Congress signed up for Zipdial’s services during the recent elections in Uttar Pradesh.

The founders of Zipdial believe that its edge over competitors is the gamut of services on offer. In most cases, up to 60 per cent of companies start off with a six-month or a one year subscription and then extend the subscription and upscale for other services as well. “When we started, there was no one else in the market. Now, there are others who have entered but they do not offer the entire suite,” says Wagoner. So, the focus will remain on expanding the product offerings to keep the lead.

To gather a fair understanding of the potential that Zipdial can realise, Wagoner points out that by her estimation, the marketing spend of small businesses alone is around US $22 billion. This, Wagoner believes, is where the growth story lies and expects the company to keep doubling revenue every quarter, as it has done in the past year.

Growing awareness
If Zipdial faced one initial limitation, it was the lack of awareness about its services that were novel. Telecom operators were not quite convinced that assigning telephone numbers to Zipdial could bring in the money, since they did not see any direct value in the missed call concept. But indirectly it does impact growth, as the products/services company calls back the customer’s number, thus driving up the overall calls made.

Today, though, there is more awareness and Zipdial has smoothened its process in the last two years. Even then Wagoner and team want to constantly improve in order to execute their ideas “150 per cent right”.

Concept in brief

Making Missed Calls Pay

“Give me a missed call and I will be there/I will call back from my office number…” This is heard often enough in our savings-oriented nation. Zipdial runs an entire business capitalising on this mentality. Call a number for free and have the vendor/service provider call you back with his offerings. Zipdial enables this by assigning numbers to its customer organisations.

It has expanded the concept to enable people to call back or message giving their feedback on services and even issues of national importance. And now, e-commerce companies can ensure that the orders on their sites are genuine by running a customer verification on the number provided while placing the order.

The possibilities are many but Zipdial is also particular that each idea is executed correctly and gets deserved traction before it announces its next service. With 300 innovative ideas around the missed call concept yet to be implemented, Zipdial is sure to create a lasting impact in this segment.

Meera Srikant has been working with publishers and publications since 1993, writing and editing articles, features and stories across topics. She also blogs and writes poems, novels and short stories during leisure. Writing for The Smart CEO since 2010, she is also a classical dancer.

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